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Learning fresh off the farm

ENID, Okla. (AP)--Where can one learn to halter-break a heifer, select soil samples or give pigs vaccinations? If you said Northwestern Oklahoma State University's agriculture farm, you get the prize.

The farm, located approximately six miles south and 2 1/4 miles west of Alva, is a 320-acre facility that houses multiple species of livestock. It is overseen by three instructors--with another expected next year--and approximately 135 Northwestern students.

Steve Sneary, Northwestern farm manager and instructor of agriculture, said the farm gives students a chance to learn from practical experience.

"We have a mix of agronomy and animal sciences. This is the facility for the labs. We raise purebred Maine-Anjou and purebred Berkshire, including the reserve champion hog in Houston in '08.

"We have a collegiate show team where we exhibit the livestock. The students get a pretty broad-based education, from nutrition, feeding, care, veterinary care and marketing.

"On the plant science-side we work on lots of demonstration plots, independent studies and wheat variety demonstration strips."

The farm currently hosts a canola test plot.

"The community is able to come look at the variety we have and the potential for their farm," Sneary said.

Students and teachers agree one of the best features of the facility is the easy transition from classroom to lab.

"One of the best things is going directly from classroom to the lab and having a hands-on demonstration of the lecture. All the kids have hands-on experience. They break between 12 and 13 heifers a year. They are broke to lead and be haltered. We can then pull them in without wrangling them.

"We work with artificial insemination, cryogenic storage system, nutrition programs and humane handling skills.

"We can go from paper to application in minutes. This way they will remember it longer. We have a class over artificial insemination then they can come out here and work with the cattle and hogs. All our animals are bred via artificial insemination," he said.

Jordan Leon, Northwestern senior, said the farm gives him the opportunity for real life lessons.

"A lot of kids are real visual. It is a good hands-on program. I am a hands-on learner. It is one thing to listen to a teacher lecture and give me formulas, it is another to actually get your hand on it and do it," said Leon.

One of the lessons that stuck in his mind was artificial insemination.

"A lot can go wrong, and there is a lot to pay attention to. Most of us had never been around it before we did it here," said Leon.

Eric Wiederstein, a fellow senior, said he is interested in the plant side of the industry, and test plots are the most interesting to him.

"I like how they are putting lots of grasses side-by-side to see how they do together. I like to see the test plots and how they do," said Wiederstein.

Northwestern will expand to include an agriculture education program next year.

"It will be one of three in the state. There is a major shortage of agriculture teachers in the state. We hope to fill some of that shortage. We have the skills to provide a good set of agriculture teachers," said Sneary.

According to Northwestern's Web site, the new degree will prepare students to be certified as agricultural education teachers in grades 6 to 12 in Oklahoma.

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